The ponderosa pine forests of the Greater Gila Bioregion are vast and majestic, growing typically between 6,000 and 8,500 ft. above sea level. Though ponderosa occur in homogenous stands in the rolling high country of the Gila these woodlands are quite diverse and the species occurs in many different forest ecosystem types. Before European settlement, widespread surface fires that occurred every 2-15 years created open woodland/savannah ecosystems. Early explorers described majestic, open stands with tall grasses and occasional shrubs beneath. The frequent, low intensity fires often killed ponderosa seedlings while the fire only scarred mature pines, with their thick yellowish red bark. The effects of grazing and fire suppression since the late 1880s on ponderosa pine forests have been profound, including a shift to forests with very high tree densities, which in turn has contributed to destructive forest fires.
Ponderosa pine forests are home to numerous wildlife species but several are found almost exclusively in these forests, for example the tassel-eared or Abert’s squirrel and the brown creeper. The tassel-eared Abert's squirrel is a distinctive inhabitant of ponderosa pine forests on the central and southern Colorado Plateau. Few mammal species are so closely tied to a particular tree as this squirrel is to ponderosa pine. The bushy-tailed squirrel uses the tree for nesting, shelter, and food, feeding on the ponderosa's seeds and the tree's cambium layer.
WildEarth Guardians is undertaking efforts to reform fire management and encourage the restoration of ponderosa pine forests in the Gila Bioregion. We are advocating for sensitive species such as the Abert’s squirrel, Mexican spotted owl and northern goshawk in all ecological restoration programs and projects, especially those that include thinning. It is critical that forest canopy not be reduced too drastically because these species require heavy canopy for their life functions.
Learn more about Keystone Forests here.